The Butte boys are looking to extend their streak of wins over their crosstown rival Butte Central.
After dropping four straight games to Central in the Crosstown Rivalry between, the Bulldogs swung back and downed the Maroons 53-46 in 2015. They followed that with a 62-56 double-overtime victory in 2016 under then first-year coach Luke Powers and then delivered a 46-36 win in 2017.
The story is flip-flopped for the Bulldogs' girls team. After stringing together three-straight wins over Central from 2012-2014, Butte has dropped three-straight contests to the Maroons who have gone on to make runs at the Class A championship — including an undefeated campaign — each of those seasons.
Third-year coach Maury Cook said his team isn't making any drastic changes to their game plan.
"We're just doing what we've been doing, but our mindset is different," Cook said. "Our attitude is different. We're pretty happy with our kids and their progress this year."
In a team void of seniors, it's been up to a mixture of juniors and sophomores to lead the way.
"I think all of our juniors have done a good job stepping," Cook said. "And we're getting good contributions from our two sophomore starters."
While last year’s boys squad had a heavy amount of senior talent, this season’s team will try to contend against a Central team that took third place at the Class A State Tournament last season with only one senior on its roster when the Bulldogs and Maroons collide at the Butte Civic Center on Thursday.
Powers knows that his team has a challenge ahead.
“This will be a year where most of these guys that played for me played on sophomore or JV last year,” said Powers. “This will be their first Butte High-Central varsity experience. There’s a different intensity to it because it’s the city championship.”
Last season’s Bulldogs’ team had size and experience on its side.
“We’ve come out on top the couple years that I’ve been here,” Powers said. “But last year we had the advantage of having a great senior class. Central had a few seniors but besides that they were pretty young. We took advantage physically and experience-wise.”
Continuing Butte’s recent string of success against Central will come down to a relatively young batch of players. But some of the stats suggest they have the ability to get the job done.
Junior Clay Ferguson is averaging 14 points per game and shooting 80 percent from the free-throw line. Junior Kash Kelly is leading the Class AA ranks by registering 5.5 assists per contest while also snagging 3.5 steals per game.
Junior guard Trevyn Roth, who is averaging 11 points per game in his second year at the varsity level, is somewhat new to the Butte-Butte Central rivalry as his family arrived in Montana during his freshman year. But he’s gotten swept up in it.
“The crosstown rivalry is always something,” Roth said, whose family relocated from Utah. “I moved here freshman year so it’s always been really fun to me. It means a lot to these guys so it’s carried over to me. It means a lot to get that win.”
Roth was part of the Bulldogs’ varsity squad that defeated Central last season, and the recipe for another win isn’t too complicated.
“Rebounding and making shots,” said Roth.
Corralling rebounds and delivering efficient shooting – especially from 3-point range — will be critical for Butte as the Bulldogs are still searching for a way to both make plays in and defend the post.
“We do about 10 things defensively right now and a whole bunch of things offensively,” Powers said. “We have to because we can’t really get anything because we’re missing an offensive presence inside right now.”
The Bulldogs' youth, while it should pay off as the team gains more experience, has also manifested itself at various times. Butte's overtime loss to Helena Capital on Dec. 14 was a prime example.
Despite going 3-for-12 from the free throw stripe, the Bulldogs still led the Bruins by 6 with 30 seconds remaining. Errors by the Bulldogs' enabled Capital to force overtime, where the Bruins outscored Butte 12-0 and emerged with a 54-42 win.
"We gave up some turnover and missed some shots and showed our youth," Powers said of the game. "Those are things that, as time goes on, we wouldn't give up. But at the same time there positive energy and improvements and we're excited about this group of kids."
While the crosstown rivalry is typically a fierce contest in which the winning team is able to stake a certain sense of ownership over The Mining City, Powers said he stresses to his squad that it is, in the end, a non-conference game between AA Butte and Class A Central.
“I spend a lot of time downplaying it a bit,” Powers said. “Our most important games are our AA Eastern Conference game and that’s what we’re preparing for. But at the same time this is a fun one for the city of Butte and the kids.”
The outcome may not affect conference record, but he knows there are other, more intangible prizes on the line.
“Pride and bragging rights, that’s for sure,” Powers said. “And you don’t usually forget the games you play against Butte Central. People spend some time talking about it.”
Powers knows that the crosstown battles live are memorable as he played basketball for Butte when he was in high school. He had friends at Central, though for one night a year that comradery was put aside.
“When I was growing up, some of my friends played for Butte Central and we’d play together at the YMCA,” Power said. “We were friends, except for those game nights. That made it special.”
In the same way his battles against Central have lived on in his mind, he believes his current players’ clashes with the Maroons will be recalled years from now.
“Ten to 15 years down the road these players will talk about this game too,” he said.
And, as the Bulldogs draw closer to a showdown with their rival a mile down the road, he likes what he’s seeing.
“There’s just been continued improvement and how hard the kids work,” Powers said. “Defensively they’re intense, and they scrap and they have energy.
"The sky is the limit."